Welcome to From the Marbles' 2014 season previews. Here's how we think the Chase will shake out in this first year of 16 drivers and eliminations. Will we be right? Unlikely, but it's fun to think about our soothsaying possibilities until the green flag waves for the Daytona 500 on Feb. 23.
Driver: Kasey Kahne
2013 Finish: 12th
2013 Highlight: Winning at Bristol in March. Kahne already had a Pocono win to his credit before he visited victory lane there in the summer, but Bristol hadn't been incredibly kind to him at the start of his career. After passing Brad Keselowski, Kahne led the final 40 laps and cruised towards a win that helped secure a Wild Card berth in the Chase.
2013 Lowlight: Well, can we just go ahead and say the entire Chase? Kahne's up-and-down season was encapsulated in the final 10 races as well. There were three top-five finishes, but they were obliterated by a 37th at New Hampshire in the second race of the Chase. And a 36th at Talladega. And a 27th at Martinsville.
Why is Kahne here? 2013 was a disappointment of sorts, and Kahne still had 11 top-five finishes to go along with the two wins. In Hendrick equipment, that speed isn't going to suddenly disappear. He's a safe bet to lodge a win before the Chase and not have to worry about qualifying as Richmond nears.
How could Kahne not be here? The flipside of that safe bet is if Kahne goes winless in the first 26 races and the inconsistency that plagued him in 2013 returns. Like, say, if the Joe Gibbs cars decided to focus solely on crashing Kahne or something.
Kahne had nine finishes below 30th in 2013, including seven before the Chase. It's why he needed the Wild Card. If something similar happens again and Kahne doesn't get to victory lane, he's not sniffing the postseason.
Best Winter Olympic Event: Figure skating. This could be the one thing that tops the classic commercials where Kasey is stalked by his female fans. (It's a shame he's sponsored by a different insurance company now.)
If Kahne does this on the ice, he's winning a gold medal.
Worst Winter Olympic Event: We just don't see Kahne as a speedskater. Maybe we're wrong.